Offline Kashmir

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Government’s decision to squeeze internet and ban social media sites has left the tech savvy generation in a fix. From researchers to e-commerce businesses, from start-ups to people longing for virtual meetings, the ban is crushing more than just dissenting voices, reports Saima Rashid

Interestingly, government’s decision to ban internet in Kashmir for at least one month coincided with test of 5G network in countries like Pakistan, Norway, Sweden and South Korea!

As the ban on 22 social media sites, and squeeze of internet bandwidth, supposedly done to quell online dissent, comes into effect, Kashmiris are left in the dark, literally.

And the first one to get affect by government’s internet ban is Kashmir’s fast growing e-commerce sector. From placement of an order to online payment to delivery of goods, this sector entirely depends on internet for its functioning.

As of now, all major e-com companies including JV Express, are struggling to keep their operations running.

“We used to handle around 500 shipments from Snapdeal and Paytm in a day,” said Zubair Altaf Sheikh, Associate vice President, JV Express. “Now, we are down to just 40 orders a day.”

JV Express employs around 40 delivery boys from Srinagar and its adjoining areas. But after the internet ban reduced their business they have laid off around 15 of them already. “If internet is not restored soon we will be completely out of business,” said Zubair. “Even office work is affected due to slow internet. We are not able to reach out to our customers.”

A senior bank employee, who wishes not to be named, says, “Apart from debit and credit cards, e-banking is one of the digital formats of cashless economy. It gives you the option of doing internet transactions from home. Now that you have no internet, it again lands you in the same queue outside banks. It is called retrogressive progression. And to match the pace of the world, it’s a necessity to have internet. I am not saying we can’t live without it, we will live; but in old ages.”

Internet has revolutionized almost every sector of life including commerce and education.  You can study, appear in exams, take classes from foreign professors while sitting in your room, provided you have an internet connection. One can even order food online now.

A non-resident Kashmiri who is based in the UK says, “If the internet gag happens in London, life will come to a halt. Everything out there works on internet. I cannot even unlock my car if my mobile internet doesn’t work. Honestly, whenever I am home, I feel like I am pushed into stone-age.”

Mehraj-ud-din, a research scholar at Kashmir University, says, internet gag primarily affects the scholars like him who work hand-in-hand with internet. “Apart from every other thing, we need internet to check if the research paper we are working on is authored already by anyone else,” said Mehraj-ud-din.

“All researchers as of now are sitting at home doing nothing. I had applied for a fellowship in Harvard for which I had a Skype interview next week. But I am helpless. All I could do is to forwarding them the links of internet gag in Kashmir.”

Mehraj-ud-din was told that his interview can’t be rescheduled. He fears that he will miss the opportunity.

“I recently saw learned that India tops the list of countries who ban internet the most. It (India) is even far ahead of North Korea in this matter,”says Mehraj-ud-din.

Saba Rehman is doing research on Online Communities in Kashmir. “My entire research is based on facebook and other social media sites. I don’t know how I am supposed to work now,” said Saba. “My annual seminar is round the corner and I am confused.”

Asif Khan, who currently heads Journalism department at Central University, Kashmir, is doing research on Social Media metrics.

“I am working on social media trends like on facebook and twitter. It is about what sort of news people post on these sites the most. Also what sort of feedback a particular issue garners. But without internet I am simply grounded,” says Asif.

The university where Asif teaches has a smart classroom meant for e-learning. “We used to get connected with classrooms in universities like Harvard for live lectures,” said Asif. “But that too is gone now.”

Besides, Asif used to send e-content, e-journals and e-books to his students. “It is not possible to teach everything in just one hour, so we give them relevant online stuff to read.”

Asif, who teaches Convergent Journalism, says the said course is entirely modeled around internet. “

There are a number of inter-class whatsapp and facebook groups where students share information and study materials.

Raima and Bisma, both MBA students at University of Kashmir, used to study from content shared by their teachers on their whatsapp group. “How are we supposed to manage now,” asks Bisma.

In last three years a number of business startups came into existence in the virtual world. These startups lack existence outside the virtual world. Once such startup is www.hannibanni.com, an e-commerce site where one can buy Kashmiri handicrafts products.

“We used to get around twenty orders a week but due to internet gag, we now get none,” said Sheikh Asif Hussain, the founder of the site.

For Kashmiris living abroad social media apps like Skype and Imo, were only means to stay connected with their families back home. For Rameez Wani, who is based in Saudi Arabia, home was just a video call away. “But now I cannot even talk to my families. I have not spoken to them as phone calls are costly,” said Wani.

After Burhan Wani was killed on July 8, 2016, internet was banned for almost six months in Kashmir. Once the ban was lifted, people thronged outlets selling Reliance Jio sims to enjoy free internet data. In a matter of just 173 days Jio managed to register a whooping 7.5 lakh new connections.

Out of these around 70 percent users paid Rs 99 for intial registration. And around 60 percent paid Rs 303 as monthly fees for using Jio services after its free data offer expired. However, after just two days of paying internet services were banned in Kashmir. “My family has three Jio connections, which means I paid Rs 1230, but for what?” asks an agitated user.

“This ban will not affect our operations much as our free audio and video calls offer is quite attractive,” said a senior Jio employee.

According to Yasir Rather, a known psychiatrist with ten years of experience says, “Post Burhan Wani’s killing the number of cases with acute depression has increased manifolds.”

Yasir feels internet gag is akin to depriving a person of his basic rights in today’s modern world. “This leads to anxiety and ultimately to depression.”

However, Waheed Ur Rehman Parra, president youth wing PDP, downplays the internet ban as a “temporary preventive decision to save human lives.”

Parra feels social media sites add to chaos once the videos (of forces atrocities) get viral. “It provokes the mobilization of people. Kashmir needs peace rather than internet.”

However he is quick to add, “We are not against the use of internet but its usage. We understand the needs of people but saving a life is more important.”

 

Note: A quote by Zubair Altaf Sheikh, was wrongly attributed to Ecom Express. Zubiar works with JV Express as its Associate vice President and not Ecom Express as mentioned in the story earlier. The mistake stands corrected.

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